(Marcillac) Better for the mechanics, better for the grape picker… and better for the rosé: in Marcillac, in the south-west of France, the harvest is carried out at night to preserve the freshness of the grapes, a practice which is spreading in the face of global warming.

At five o’clock in the morning, while a late heat wave is suffocating France in early September, it is around 20°C when the vines are traversed and shaken by the “vendangeuse”, a gantry tractor which spans the vines. ranks.

“Harvesting at night is for the quality of the grapes, for the freshness and the aromas,” explains its driver, Loïc Malherbe, to AFP, who has been up for 2 hours. “It’s not unpleasant, it’s a different rhythm of life […] It’s better for the machine and better for the man too. »

Better, too, for the energy bill in a Bordeaux vineyard in crisis, underlines Kees Van Leeuwen, professor of viticulture at Bordeaux Sciences Agro. This makes it possible to avoid the costs of cooling the clusters.

“If we harvest at night, the temperature of the bunches is lower, especially on very hot days like this week. There is a huge benefit in using energy,” he argues.

Once the vats are full of Merlot, the rotating beacon of the harvesting machine is activated and Stéphane Héraud, the operator of the plot, positions his trailer to receive the grapes.

“We have been harvesting whites and rosés at night for fifteen years, and maybe one day we will also do reds,” observes the winegrower, president of the Vignerons de Tutiac cooperative. “If we harvested during the day, we would have more oxidized wines, so in terms of taste, it would be much less pretty. »

Stéphane Héraud climbs onto his trailer and sprays the harvest with dry ice (-80°C) taken from a cooler. Here too, it is a matter of containing oxidation by reducing the quantity of oxygen in the bin, he explains before driving seven tonnes of berries to the Tutiac cellars, the first AOC cooperative in France with 500 winegrowers. members, 100 million euros in turnover and 190 employees.

Trailers and winegrowers parade among the dozens of stainless steel vats: some 500 tons of grapes must be brought to the press that night, the equivalent of 4,000 hectoliters of wine or 525,000 bottles.

At the Vignerons de Tutiac, the emphasis on rosé (45,000 hectoliters produced per year, out of a total of 150,000 in Bordeaux) seems to be bearing fruit: one of the cuvées, labeled “Zero pesticide residue”, played the spoilsports during a blind tasting of the Revue des Vins de France, ranking fourth in the middle of the rosés of Provence, reference of the category.

“To make good rosés, light rosés as the consumer demands, color is a criterion,” recalls Paul Oui, chief oenologist at Tutiac. “We have to limit the migration of color (of the skin) into the juice and for that, the earlier and fresher we pick the grapes, the more we manage to limit it. »

The practice of night harvesting was already “common” in hot countries, such as Australia or California, but it is also tending to spread in Bordeaux, notes Kees Van Leeuwen.

“On whites and rosés, we can imagine that it will become more widespread,” notes this academic who does not exclude that red, representing more than 85% of the Bordeaux vineyards, will also get involved, because with climate change , the harvest becomes earlier and earlier and therefore subject to intense heat.

This is confirmed by Stéphane Héraud: “I remember, when I was very young, seeing my parents harvesting in November. Last year, on September 30, we were done… Climate change, the one who says it doesn’t exist, he’s not a winegrower in Bordeaux. »